Journalist Priya Ramani on Saturday, recorded her statement as a defense witness in a defamation plaint filed against her by former Union Minister MJ Akbar, in Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Samar Vishal’s court.
The proceedings were adjourned for the day. Matter will come up for hearing on September 9.
In her statement Ramani said, “Mr Akbar happened to be visiting that day from Delhi and I met him. He asked me to come to The Oberoi Hotel for an interview at 7 pm on the same day. I said okay and left.”
“At 7 pm my friend Nilofer dropped me at Oberoi (hotel). When I reached the lobby and looked around for Mr Akbar but after I could not see him, I asked the reception to connect me to him. He asked me to come up to his room.”
“I was silent and hesitant; he then reiterated and asked me to come up. I thought the interview would be at the coffee shop or lobby but I was 23 and not that confident to say, “No I will wait for you in the lobby.”
“I did not know I could dictate the terms of the interview. I was hesitant but went up. I rang the bell, he answered and I entered his room.”
Ramani further said, “It was his bedroom, it was small, enclosed. The bed was turned down for the night, there was a small two-seater sofa near the bed. It was a big window and I could see it was a sea facing room, there were 2 chairs and a small table adjacent to the window and we sat there.”
“I felt ill at ease to be in such an intimate space for a professional interview. I was acutely aware that I was alone in this room with him. He asked me why I had gone to US to study journalism. I replied that it was my dream to be a journalist, that this job was important to me, especially since it was my first job.”
“He then asked many personal questions. He wanted to know if I was married, I said no. He wanted to know if I had boyfriend, I replied no. He asked me many questions about my family, I told him that my parents are keen and I have an arranged match.
Ramani said, Akbar then offered her alcohol from a mini bar, “but I refused”.
Her lawyer then asked, “What happened next?” She replied, “He got up and made a drink for himself. I think it was Vodka. He then asked me about my music preferences, when I replied he started singing old hindi songs to me, I felt extremely uncomfortable at all these inappropriate personal questions.
“He did not discuss my writing skills, my knowledge of current affairs or any journalism related question. Then he moved to the small two seater sofa next to the bed and gestured to me to come sit in the tiny space next to him.”
“I was already feeling unnerved by his inappropriate behaviour. Now I was concerned for my physical safety. I knew I had to leave the room immediately. I got up and said I had to leave.”
“As I was leaving, Mr Akbar said his office would follow up about the job.” The court was then adjourned for lunch and was to reassemble at 2 p.m.”
As the #MeToo campaign caught on in India last year, more than 30 women journalists came forward with allegations of sexual harassment against the former minister of state for external affairs.
Ramani had in 2018 narrated her account in a published article. Though the write-up did not name Akbar then, she revealed last year that it was him. By then, more women had come out with their own stories of alleged harassment by the senior journalist.
— Priya Ramani (@priyaramani) October 8, 2018
After a huge row, the journalist-turned-politician gave his resignation in October, 2018. He then filed a criminal defamation case against Ramani.
Through a tweet, Ramani said, “Time to tell our side of the story,” when she was summoned by the court.
Time to tell our side of the story 🙂 https://t.co/q5H9jTZ4UJ
— Priya Ramani (@priyaramani) January 29, 2019
The journalist got bail on a personal bond of Rs 10,000 in February.